Consoleation Review: Zen Pinball (3DS)
Zen Studios has come a long way from its initial Pinball FX offering for Xbox LIVE Arcade back in 2007. Pinball FX2 (XBLA), Zen Pinball (PS3/PSN), and Marvel Pinball (XBLA/PSN) have gradually shown improvement in terms of ball physics, table design, and general appeal. Zen Studios continues to support Pinball FX2 and Marvel Pinball with new tables regularly, and Zen Pinball is slated to receive a makeover a bit later this year. I’ve easily spent dozens of hours playing these games, and that time has been enjoyable.
Now 3DS owners can take the pinball experience on the go with Zen Pinball, which is available now via the eShop for $6.99. Four tables await players; two are formerly Zen Pinball exclusives for the PlayStation 3 and the other two may be familiar to some as add-on tables for Pinball FX. The overall package is enhanced with some 3D graphics effects and active online leaderboards. The transition from console to portable isn’t quite perfect, but Zen Pinball maintains its identity as a solid pinball simulation that will keep both new and experienced pinball fans flipping for hours.
The four tables are all markedly different experiences. The Shaman table has a tribal theme with unique challenges like a ramp-accessible upper playfield with flippers and drop targets, as well as a cascading ball drop called the Volcano. The El Dorado table has a bit of an Indiana Jones or Uncharted feel to it, sporting an expanding totem pole shot and a “U-Turn” ramp in the lower playfield. The Earth Defense table is a sci-fi table with plenty of ramps and orbits to traverse as players attempt to thwart an alien invasion. Finally, the Excalibur table is a nod to medieval times and requires accurate flipper shots to take uncover all of the challenges that it offers. The Earth Defense and Excalibur tables are better overall experiences than Shaman and El Dorado, but none of the tables are bad and all of the tables are worth playing at least a little bit.
The control scheme is easy to learn. The analog disc (or the A Button) launches the ball into play. Flippers are controlled either via the L and R triggers at the top of the 3DS or via the directional pad (for the left flipper) and the B Button (for the right flipper). Several different camera views can be accessed via the X Button. It’s a little surprising that the 3DS accelerometer wasn’t used for nudging the table, but the analog disc handles the task just fine. Table nudging isn’t as vital in virtual pinball games as it is when playing a real table, but it can come in handy when a ball is heading towards an outlane. The controls are responsive, which is important in a pinball game as accurate shots are needed for the best success and highest table scores.
The biggest difference in the Zen Pinball experience for the 3DS versus its console-based relatives is the frame rate. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions run at a smooth 60 frames per second, but the 3DS version runs at half that speed. It’s similar to Pinball Hall of Fame for the 3DS; console players will have to adjust to the frame rate difference as it does change the overall experience. The difference forces players to alter shot timing to ensure accuracy. It’s not an impossible or problematic adjustment, but some trial and error will be necessary to find the right flipper window for certain ramp shots that were second-nature on consoles after lots of practice. Aside from the frame rate difference, the visuals are identical to the console versions with the exception of the addition of some 3D effects. The 3D isn’t overdone and it doesn’t make a ton of difference, but it does make the graphics pop just a little bit more than normal. The music and sound effects are also pulled right from the console versions, for better or for worse.
Zen Pinball boasts online leaderboard support, which is something that Pinball Hall of Fame sorely lacked. There are several different leaderboards, tracking all-time high scores, weekly high scores, Pro Scores, and Team Scores. The first two boards are self-explanatory, but are still key to replay value. The odds are that there’s going to be someone who has posted a better score than you have, so having a mark to shoot for aside from your own personal best is something that promotes regular play. The Pro Score is the sum of your scores on all tables; for example, if you’ve amassed 70 million points combined, your Pro Score would be 70. The Team Score is the sum of the Pro Scores of all of the people on your Friends List. This promotes building Friends Lists and exchanging Friend Codes with other players. (Speaking of which, I’ll plug my Friend Code, which is 1719-3185-8983.) Each table also has a few “achievements” that can be unlocked by accomplishing certain table feats.
Zen Pinball for the 3DS delivers a fun pinball experience with lots of replay value and the promise of new tables via downloadable content later this year. Fans of Zen Studios’ console pinball experiences will feel right at home after adjusting to the lower frame rate, while newer pinball wizards-to-be will have no problem picking up the controls and learning the ins and outs of each table. This game sets the bar for portable pinball, and I happily recommend this game for your 3DS downloadable library.